The art – and meaning – of small conversations

by Steve Brock on April 5, 2011

Which is more unusual? A duo-toned sky or going through your life underneath this sky and never noticing it?

Besides the discovery of something new in an old and familiar place, another reason my trip to LA a few weeks ago was so meaningful was because of the people we encountered.

My sons ask me why I always get into witty banters with strangers, particularly people in somewhat boring jobs. My response to them was an abbreviated version of the following (to them, my comments ended after “Because…”):

“Because no one ever has enough affirmation, encouragement or appreciation. Each person is an opportunity not only for discovery, but for connection and relationship. It’s a chance to touch a life, even in a small way. Meaningful travel, after all, isn’t just about making travel meaningful for you. It’s as much or more about creating meaning for others.”

Here are some of the small moments that added up to a greater degree of meaning in LA:

Parking garage attendant – As we left the paid parking garage, we asked the attendant the directions to Angel Flight. He not only told us, but walked us out to the street, pointed it out down the block and gave us an enthusiastic description of the food available at the Central Market. I honestly doubt he gets a chance to say more than, “That will be ________,” “Thank you,” or “Have a nice day” in any given eight hours of work. We not only sought information from him, we invested time and interest in what he had to say. We all left our little discussion feeling more connected in ways that don’t seem logical for such short conversations.

Ticket-seller at Angel Flight – Angel Flight is a recently restored tram from the early 20th century that saves you the hike up Bunker Hill. My youngest son, Connor, had recently saved up and purchased a new skateboard which he just happened to have with him that day (don’t ask). I doubted he could legally ride it in around the office buildings, so he asked the ticket-seller. I expected at least a mild rebuff but instead, the guy was incredibly nice. I think he must have been a surfer in a younger age for he encouraged Connor and told of places nearby where he could skate. I think it was the phrase, “Go for it, little dude” that brought more than a smile.

Bag/coat-check person at MOCA – One of the young women at the Museum of Contemporary Art asked what Connor had in the bag he was carrying. He told her it was full of gummi bears he’d just bought at the Central Market. She went from an official making sure nothing entered the museum inappropriately to a little kid, telling us how much she loved gummi bears. She even told us how she’d found one buried in her purse just that morning that had been there for months and how she had pulled it out and eaten it. TMI (too much information).

Office building security guard – As we waited for Connor on his skateboard at one point, my other son Sumner and I wandered around the fountains and tall buildings, taking pictures. At one point, a female security guard came up to us and told us we couldn’t take pictures of the buildings from the fountain area. It was private property. We asked if we could take pictures from public property of the same building, like from the street. Yes, we could do that. We started to get into a discussion on the logic of such security measures when I stopped and told her we weren’t really interested in the buildings.

Instead, we were photographing the sky which, in a bizarre way, was two different shades of blue (see the photo). I guess there was enough mist in the air so that the shadow of one building created a distinct tonal differentiation in the sky. Thus, we told her we weren’t taking pictures of the buildings but of the air between them.

Her next comment was the most revealing.

“I’ve never looked up,” she said.

But then she did.

 At that point, she did something we hadn’t seen her do in our discourse with her. Something she may not have done all that day.

As she gazed up into the bifurcated heavens, she did a double take at the sky.

And then she smiled.

It was a good day.

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